Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World

E.L. Konigsburg
Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Simon and Schuster, 2009   ISBN: 978-1416953531

   Amedeo Kaplan's new life in St. Malo Florida, is very different from the one that he had in New York City. Here he is just another new person in town, one of many, and he feels rather lonely. What really worries Amedeo is that he is concerned that being in Florida will make it hard for him to achieve his dream – to discover something special that is new or that has been lost for a long time. He has read countless stories about young people who have discovered lost caves, lost treasures and other exciting things, and he wants to do the same. Can such a dream come true in St. Malo?

   Then Amedeo meets William Wilcox. William helps his mother with her work managing estate sales. He goes with her to the houses whose contents are to be sold off, and together they go through everything, figuring out what things are worth and then finding the best buyer. Amedeo meets William because William is working in one of the houses on Amedeo’s street, in Mrs. Zender’s house. Intrigued by the idea of being able to explore the old house, and wanting to have William as a friend, Amedeo asks if he can help with the estate sale work.

   Soon Amedeo is helping to clean, sort, and price objects in the house. He is also getting to know Mrs. Zender. The old lady once was an opera diva and she has never really left her former life behind her, even though she is no longer famous or wealthy. Mrs. Zender still depends on “People” to do things for her and she loves being the center of attention. She can be very annoying at times, but she is also good fun, and during a close moment with Amedeo, she tells him that “ninety percent of who you are is invisible.” People are rather like icebergs; only a small part of who they are can be seen.

   When a small sketch drawn by a famous artist is found in Mrs. Zender's library Amedeo begins to understand what she is talking about. Something about the sketch is special, maybe even familiar, but Mrs. Zender won’t tell anyone its story. She clearly means for Amedeo to be the one to find out the truth about Modigliani’s The Moon Lady. He is going to have to look beyond what can be seen to find out the rest of the story.

   What follows is an extraordinary search for the truth which ends up leading Amedeo to the story of a young WWII refugee from Holland. Amedeo and his friends uncover a terribly sad story about the Nazi occupation in Holland and the theft of a “degenerate” piece of art. Unexpected connections appear in all kinds of strange places and it becomes clear that putting together the pieces of the puzzle is going to be painful and difficult.

   In this extraordinary story E.L. Konigsburg explores the way in which people hide a large part of themselves from the world. Secrets often are painful and they can even hurt others. She also tells the fascinating story of how the Nazis looted Europe of its artworks and how Hitler’s regime did its best to defame certain artists whose work they considered “degenerate” and “racially impure.” The works of such artists, which included the Impressionists, Picasso, and Braque, were destroyed, locked away, and ridiculed in special exhibits.

   Sometimes painful and very thought-provoking, this story will give the reader a great deal to think about and will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression.

   

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